(In)Adequate Supervision

Saturday morning was fairly typical around our house. I was up with the kids while Jon had a bit of a lie-in. Jacob escaped from my diaper-changing ministrations and was running naked around the house. Hannah decided to join him, and I had two children without a stitch of clothing behaving like rabid monkeys. I followed them and tried to coax Jacob to lie down for a diaper change. He was having none of it, so I picked him up.

Laying Jacob down, just a second too late, I saw a glint in his mouth. I didn’t know what it was, but it caught in his throat and didn’t come up. He started choking. I pulled him upright, and for about 15 seconds he wasn’t breathing. I screamed for Jon and tried desperately to remember how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a toddler. Then Jacob threw up, but not the shiny thing, and gasped in some air.

The next few minutes are a blur. Jacob was breathing, but also coughing and vomiting and in some distress. I tried to call my mother-in-law the nurse but she wasn’t there, so I only succeeded in scaring my father-in-law. Jon threw on clothes. I yelled at Hannah to get dressed and I got Jacob mostly dressed. I called 911, and cried to the operator incoherently. She wanted my address, and I really just wanted someone to tell me what to do. Before the operator got the pertinent details out of me Jon grabbed Jacob and headed to the ER, about 90 seconds from our house by car. I explained and hung up.

Smiley 15-month-old Jacob
Jacob sits perched on my desk, after scaling it under his own steam

At this point I really freaked out. My baby was going to the hospital and I wasn’t with him. I got myself dressed and Hannah dressed and jumped into my own car. Waiting at the one traffic light between my house and the hospital Jon called and told me that Jacob had finally expelled the object about 15 minutes after swallowing it. It turned out to be a pendant of Hannah’s. He was now fine and well-oxygenated, although they kept us in the ER to listen to his chest and do an X-ray.

This is my third trip to the ER with my children. My average is more than a year and a half between visits, which is not too bad all things considered. But it does bring something into stark relief for me – in spite of all of my efforts, there is only so much I can do to protect my kids. I was in the room with Jacob when he put the pendant in his mouth, I just wasn’t looking at him. I was not talking on the phone or reading or checking my email, I was trying to get some clothes on my kids and something slipped under the radar.

10-month-old Hannah wrapping Christmas presents
10-month-old Hannah had her first ER visit after she injured her face with barbecue tongs

When kids get hurt we rush to figure out what went wrong. This can be good, because sometimes we can use that information to prevent something similar from happening in the future. Post mortems have helped us to develop better cars, car seats and bicycle helmets. I have no doubt that lives have been saved. But we have to be cautious, at the same time, that we do not place undue blame in the process. When you have small children, there but for the grace of God go you. In an instant, as you visit the bathroom or make a sandwich, things can go south.

In spite of the fact that our kids are little accidents waiting to happen, I don’t think we should lock them up in padded rooms. Kids need to explore and learn. They need to fall down sometimes, or face a few germs. Our impulses to protect them are sound, but we must also protect their freedom and their quality of life in the process. This is the constant balancing act of life with small children, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get it perfect.

The panic is fading following our ER visit. Eventually it will be (almost) as if it never happened, and I am thankful for that. In spite of the occasional panicked moments most children show no ill effects, and the likelihood is extremely good that my kids will be the same. But having felt that panic myself, when I hear stories about toddlers who accidentally drown, or open a locked door and wander off in the night, I do not rush to blame. I know that this could easily be me. Even as I work to protect my children, they work to defeat my safety net. There but for the grace of God go I.

Care to share your stories of rush trips to the ER? I could use a little commiseration.

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  1. hug them for me…

  2. We haven’t been to the ER yet, but it’s not because of my stellar parenting skills! The biggest scare we’ve had has been Suzi nearly swallowing a small hair elastic–the thin kind. It was mine and I think she pulled it off a doorknob when she was about two. I was watching her and talking to her. I think I even said “Suzi, what’s that in your hand?” but she turned away, put her head down and got it in her mouth. A couple minutes later, she was gagging, ended up vomiting *around* it, and luckily I was able to pull it out before it REALLY got stuck in her throat. Had it been something small and slick like a pendant, it would’ve been down her throat and a trip to the hospital for us!

    The pathetic thing is that after a choking incident that ends up being okay, children still need to be seen, just to be sure they are really okay and no damage was done. However, in the US, it is tempting for parents to not go in because–especially in the case of an ER trip–it can cause serious financial hardship. If we had to pay for an ER visit every year and a half, we’d have a continually mounting, never-ceasing hospital bill to pay off, and we have “good” insurance! Of course we’d go if we had to, but parents with children who have been hurt should have only one thing on their minds: taking care of their kids.
    .-= Jenny´s last post ..Our fifth =-.

  3. Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings says:

    How perfectly scary! You’re right though. . . things can happen so quick and you can be right there when it does. My son took off from our front porch one day to see his aunt, tripped and cut his head on her car door. We ended up in the ER and he had the pieces of his skin glued back together…no stitches this time. Not yet anyhow.

    I wanted to put him in a bubble at that point! but I know it’s not good.

  4. Grace of God is absolutely right. I remember hearing a radio report about a kid who had fallen into a washer or something, and the fireman said “this just shows you that you can’t leave kids for a minute”, and I got his point, but it made me angry at the same time, because you can’t NOT leave kids for a minute. There is no way your attention can be one hundred percent focused on them all the time, and most of our kids make it to adulthood through a combination of parenting and dumb luck. I came home from grocery shopping with Eve when she was about eight months old, plunked her on the couch, went around to the kitchen to put something down, came back and she was choking and turning blue. She had found a penny in the couch cushions. I think that’s the starkest terror I’ve ever felt.

    Jenny’s point is also a good one. It’s awful to think that parents might have to think twice about getting medical help for their kids. Because when you have kids, shit is going to happen.
    .-= Allison´s last post ..*************Stale Nuts and Fragrant Balls =-.

  5. Jasie VanGesen says:

    I’m so glad he’s ok… that’s so scary. My son has only been to the ER once, but I still feel to this day that it was completely my fault. After much waffling back and forth, we had decided to put him on medication for his bi-polar. Four days later we were in the ER with him as he was having full body tremors and was unable to speak. 🙁

  6. The Poptart choked on a chunk of arrowroot while sitting on my lap. I’m a First Aid instructor and former lifeguard. I teach people how to be water safety instructors. And she still choked. While sitting on my lap. It was only a couple of seconds, and she was fine, but it scared all three of us when I flipped her upside down and whacked her on the back.

    Glad he’s okay. If you want a one-on-one refresher of the choking procedure, let me know. I can review it with you (will not recertify, but good to review, anyways).
    .-= Nicole´s last post ..Perturbed =-.

  7. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that! So scary! I have four children, and until this year we had only been to the er once. This spring? FOUR TIMES. All for dd3. She is so accident prone, once cracking her head open and needing four stitches, getting her elbow dislocated when playing with her big sister, falling on her head off the top bunk, and dehydration from a stomach bug. Its so hard to keep her safe!

    hugs for you mama.
    .-= JoniRae´s last post ..Parenting Fail =-.

  8. This story freaks the crap out of me. I wasn’t so worried about my son choking because he was an only child and it was much easier to keep small things out of reach. Now that he’s older all of his toys come with little bits and 14-mth Em is right in there with his stuff. We try to remove most of them but I can’t them all away otherwise he’s left with only baby-stuff and that’s not much fun for a 3-year-old.

    So far my only trip to the ER with the kids was for pneumonia and while it was horrible and scary it wasn’t something involving an accident. However I will share this: Em fell off the change table this morning while I was standing right in front of her and had just bent over to put her dirty diaper in the pail. I still don’t understand how it happened and it literally took one second of my attention to be elsewhere for her to fall all the way to the floor. I was there. And yet I didn’t stop her from falling on her head. And yes I feel really bad. Luckily she seems alright.
    .-= Marilyn´s last post ..Christmas Meme & Blog Award =-.

  9. Oh Amber, I’m so glad Jacob is ok. I remember before I had kids hearing about a toddler roaming the streets – and hearing that the parents had no idea the baby was out. I thought “how the heck could someone let a child out of their sight – firstly, and secondly – why wasn’t the door locked?” NOW I understand. Ever since my Tegan has learned how to unlock the door (at 3 years of age), I worry that she’ll wake up some night and wander outside on her own. Neither of my girls have visited the ER but we’ve had some close calls. When Madelyn was two we were at a pool party. I thought my biggest worry was making sure she didn’t fall in the pool but it turns out it was the grapes. She had put one to many in her mouth and half of one got stuck to the roof of her mouth. She started choking and I did the finger swoop in her mouth – nothing – she was still choking and I swooped again and felt the grape and got it out. She then vomited – and I somehow caught all of it in my two hands and a friend caught the next upheaval. lol. Not a drop near the guests but we both went running to dispose of it in the bushes – yuck. There was another incident with my nephew – which I feel terrible about. His parents were moving to a new house and I was helping. Elijah went running past me and tripped on my foot, he went flying into a bookcase and his eyebrow was split open. We thought he’d need stitches but my SIL just put a band-aid on it and it healed rather well. You can only do so much to protect them, accidents will happen.

  10. Glad he is ok. Trips to the ER are scary.

    I only have the one child, but I had far too many. Septicemea, fall from a chair on the back of her head, tumbling down a set of stairs on the day she figured out how to open the stair gate… Yet, like you I believe packing them in cotton wool won’t do any good.
    .-= Mel´s last post ..Best of 2009: Person =-.

  11. Commiseration, eh? Well we also believe that you can’t wrap your children in cotton wool … or at least, you could, but they’d have no fun in life! However, my daughter ended up spending years without two front teeth. The baby ones got banged really hard playing outside and had to be removed. (I’m so glad Jacob is okay.)

  12. Scary stuff…glad he’s okay!

    When Ravenna was just under 3 yrs old she burned her hand on the glass that covers our gas fireplace. We had been in the kitchen together when she wandered off into the living room where the fireplace is. I thought she was going to her favorite poop-in-her-diaper spot, and wanted to get a potty under her. It was upstairs. I passed through the living room on my way upstairs, and she was climbing into a recliner. I figured she was just going to look at books, but I went up to get the potty anyway. 20 seconds later I came down with it and she said “I touched the fireplace!” and was crying and holding her hand. I never would have guessed she’d do that in the brief time I was gone, but agh!
    More here: http://coiledtospring.blogspot.com/2008/04/bit-of-trauma.html

  13. How scary Amber. I’m glad he’s okay. I had to run my daughter to emergency for a fever when she was 3 months old. That sucked because they wanted to do all these tests on her and as a new mom I had no idea what I was getting into. I won’t go into the gory details but I highly recommend that parents try on their own to get a fever down first. I didn’t try anything before we ran to the hospital and I ended up letting them do a bunch of very invasive tests on my baby that I highly reegretted later. But one story I will share is when my oldest daughter was a day old and I was still in the hospital with her she stopped breathing and went blue. I grabbed her and ran to the nurse’s station crying and screaming for help. They turned her upside down and clapped her on the back and she was fine, and then they proceeded to chide me for running with a fresh c-section incision and screaming in the halls which probably upset the other patients. Next time, they said, you should just ring the bell and that this kind of thing happens all he time. Are you KIDDING me??? How was I supposed to know that? And screw the bell, it took the nurses sometimes 10 minutes to answer a bell call. That was probably my worst hospital experience ever.
    .-= Melodie´s last post ..Caring For A High Needs Baby During The Holidays =-.

  14. Thank you for sharing this, lady.
    .-= Maria´s last post ..waking up =-.

  15. totally sounds like my house!

  16. I haven’t been to the ER yet, miraculously (3 boys, ages 6, 3, 1). But just this morning, as I stood 10 feet away, my 3 yo pushed my 1 yo down the stairs. He was fine, but I lost it. These little people are so resilient, but in an instant something crazy and stupid can happen. This is a great post. I think about it all the time. How we can’t live in fear, but we have to realize that the shit can go down at anytime.

    Yowsa. These little people.
    .-= Boy Crazy (@claritychaos)´s last post ..Drive =-.

  17. MommyGeekology says:

    This is an excellent post… always relevant. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. We were in the ER over the summer, and I know there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it. Julesy had just figured out how to climb, and one day he scurried up the rocking recliner and dove head first off of it, while we watched in horror, because even though were were right there in the room with our eyes directly on him, he was so fast, there was no catching him before he fell.

    But he was absolutely fine. The doc said it would have taken a whole lot higher of a fall to cause any damage, and the lesson learned that day was not to rush to the ER every time somebody bumps their head (cause here in America, that ER visit costs thousands of dollars!)

    Honestly there are days that I feel my only job is to keep them alive, and sometimes they try to make that impossible. These kids really are out to get me, I swear.
    .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..Backseat Parents: Kick Them Out of the Car =-.

  19. I’ve never had to really rush to ER. I did call 911 once when Jamie seemed to be having so much trouble breathing I thought something terrible was going wrong. Turned out he had croup, and not a particularly terrible dose of it. I felt silly, but the paramedics were great about it. They assured me that it was better to be safe than sorry.

    When my niece was a small child she was super slim. One time when she was about a year old–just as her parents were rushing about to get packed to take their three girls up to their cottage–my niece crawled over and managed to find that two of the bars on the railing of their upstairs hallway were just a little bit further apart than usual. She managed to push herself through and fall onto the tile floor below. My brother and his wife sped to the hospital terrified of how hurt their daughter might be. As it turned out she was barely hurt at all. She got a mild bruise on one cheek. Isn’t that amazing?
    .-= Mary Lynn´s last post ..Good thing he’s still under warranty =-.

  20. Scary stuff! I have four children ranging in age from 14 years to almost 9 months. I’ve had my fair share of visits to the ER and I can definitely relate. It’s an overwhelmingly come-back-down-to-earth type of experience. We risk our lives each and every day, just getting out of bed, getting into our cars, walking down the street. It’s unavoidable. By the grace of God, there we go…
    Wonderful post!

  21. When Gracie was.. oh, about 2 I guess, she stayed the night with Jason’s mom, her Nana. When Jason and I went to pick her up, we were greeted with a locked door. We knocked and heard Nana yell, “Just a minute!” then a second later Gracie crying hysterically. Jason and I waited for what seemed like 20 minutes outside of the locked door, listening helpless to our screaming child when finally Nana opened the door. Turns out, Nana had been giving Gracie a bath when we knocked. Nana told her, “Momma and Daddy are here!” turned to get a towel, and in that nanosecond that her back was turned Gracie attempted to get out of the bathtub by herself and busted her lip.
    At first it didn’t look that bad. It bled a lot, but lips bleed… a lot. But another thing they do is swell. And in the 20 minutes it takes us to drive home, the small tear in her lip had erupted into a huge gash that required stitches.
    Sure, it wasn’t life or death or anything, but even that was pretty scary.
    .-= Erin W.´s last post ..A Father =-.

  22. Pictures…of the time my son swallowed two quarters that subsequently became lodge in his esophagus. Talk about a nightmare.


  23. Amber, I’m so sorry, I’m so glad Jacob is ok! You’re right about the need to explore, learn, and fall down (the real learning there is getting up again!). We’ve rushed to ER many times, three times by ambulance – we are about 30 kms away from the nearest hospital. But they were all consequences of more or less severe sickness and chronic conditions, and still, as a parent, the first reaction was “how could have I prevented this”. I do believe that kids hold memories of traumatic events, such as ER, in some ways. My daughter at 10 months was in intensive care for 2 weeks, totally sedated the whole time, but that experience really changed her in many ways.
    I’m really glad Jacob is ok, I wish you a happy and relaxed Christmas time.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Missing mittens =-.

  24. I’m glad Jakob is okay! Just so you and your readers know, the quickest way to dislodge something from a choking toddelr is to hold them upside down and start slapping their back. And, make sure you physically see whatever it was they were choking on. If you can’t see it, it means the object may have gone into their lungs, and that will cause more problems. Regardless, a choking toddler should always be examined by a doctor, even if they seem okay.

    I’d share a story about taking Victoria to Eagle Ridge Hospital…but I’ll probably just get myself mad. Let’s just say I personally think infants with high a high fever who are projectile vomitting should be admitted before a potentially overdosed crack-addict.

  25. I decided to do a search on choking infants and toddlers. You actually should NOT slap their back. Here is information on what to do: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/sheets/choking_sheet.html

  26. Goodness, how scary, I’m so glad he is okay! We went to a CPR/choking for babies and toddlers class this last summer and it made me feel a lot more confident about facing something like that. ER trips with kids are such scary things to go through, glad you are past it and everyone is okay.
    .-= AmberDusick´s last post ..Holiday Traditions =-.

  27. Just to clarify that on an infant if they are conscious and choking (completely blocked, i.e. – no coughing, inadequate air exchange), you point their head down and deliver back blows and chest thrusts, alternately. If the child is older (toddler and up) and you can’t point their head down, then yes, you do abdominal thrusts. This is because if they are upright and you loosen the blockage, the block may drop back down into the airway even further.

    This is the ILCOR/HSA standard.
    .-= Nicole´s last post ..Perturbed =-.

  28. amber reading that I could feel it- how scaryKate was my mouth everything kid- i lost count at how mnay finger sweeps i gave her!It IS so hard-you are a great mum-!

  29. oh! My heart was in my throat reading that one!

    There are many trips to ER… some of the tales are gory (tent pole in the roof of the mouth, broken femur, avulsed permanent front tooth, jabbed eye, toddler falling down front steps onto concrete with blood on ears, nose, mouth!!!!) some were much scarier than any of the blood (strider cough in the middle of the night resulting in blue lips and panicking child ambulance trip for that one, and calling poison control over the eating of a few ointments, a giant fever that would’t go down….) And I am a careful mom!

    It is just the trials of growing up I think.

    I remember choking on a coughdrop one night and my dad panicking about it (it did manage to come out as he dashed me out to the car, but I am pretty sure I was goggle-eyed and changing colour by then) He sat down and cried for a long time — it was the first time I ever saw him cry. Also, I cut my finger to the bone on a can while feeding the cat, and needed stitches after kneeling on broken pottery.

    We aren’t the only ones! My sister’s little girl knocked out both front teeth (baby ones) carrying a cookie out of the bakery and tripping on the sidewalk! My neighbour’s 8 year old son broke BOTH forearms when he fell over forwards off a lawnchair onto the patio. My best friend as a kid dropped a bead in her ear and had to go to the ER to get it out. Dumb things that are impossible to prevent even with terrific supervision.
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Sad Thing to Have in Common =-.

  30. So scary! Of course things are going to happen – aren’t war stories the fun part of surviving childhood? 😉 That doesn’t mean I look forward to stitches or broken bones for MY son, but I realize I’ll be faced with something some day.
    So far, he’s only had to be rushed to the ER after he was born (we were in a birth center and they said he was having problems breathing).
    .-= Dionna´s last post ..Healthier Holiday Snacks =-.

  31. That was so scary! I am so glad he was ok!
    I have never been to the ER with her but I took him 3 times in his first 3 months. Taking him was probably in part due to sleep deprivation, but we went 1. because what we thought was an eye infection at 6 weeks 2. I slammed his head into the fridge when he was in the sling and 3. his sister fell on his neck while he was getting a diaper change and she was dancing. That last one had me hysterical just from the image of it. There have been a few more accidents since then but no ER trips.
    Again, so glad you are all ok.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..River =-.

  32. Thanks for sharing this, even though it must have been scary for it to happen, and scary to relive it! I’ve been thinking of just this thing, because I also believe children need some space to be kids, and yet they’re also fragile. Such a balance. Today Mikko sat in the closet with the door closed for a long time, and I checked on him to make sure he wasn’t eating any of the spare toiletries we keep in there, but he was just sitting. And I felt I should let him, but I stayed in the room and kept checking on him.

    We haven’t been to the ER yet. The couple times he’s scarily choked, he ended up vomiting the object pretty quickly. We had one head injury when I fell when I was carrying him (worst sound ever was his head hitting the pavement — oh! horrible!), but we monitored him after he’d calmed down and decided he was OK. He also burned his hand, but Dr. Google told us that the degree of burn was acceptable for home-care, and it healed well.

    Because I agree with Jenny, sadly: We can’t afford any unnecessary ER trips. The ER isn’t covered by our insurance. We could do a clinic during daytime hours, but even that’s expensive. We didn’t even want to call our doctor for advice, because she charges a phone consultation fee. I hate weighing responsiveness vs. finances, but I also do believe in self-care when possible. If it’s a true emergency, I will call 911. I don’t know what my threshold is, but I have to assume I’ll know it when I see it. Growing up in an Army household, we routinely used the ER like a clinic, for coughs, cuts that didn’t end up needing stitches, broken toes — all things that I wouldn’t go there for now.

    Melodie, how horrible that the nurses told you to ring the bell & wait! Give me a break.
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last post ..Breastfeeding and the holidays: How to take care of yourself =-.

  33. Oh goodness, it’s a worst nightmare come true. I’m so glad he’s okay. You are right. You can’t watch them every second. Though I still get nervous if my daughter goes in her room alone to play, or if I step out to the mailbox while she’s eating something. Is she going to choke while I’m gone? People with grown children tell me that this fear/anxiety never really goes away.

    We’ve made one trip to the ER. My daughter was 2 weeks old and earlier that day we’d been told by her doctor that we needed to start giving her formula because she hadn’t gained any weight from week 1 to week 2. I had breast reduction surgery when I was 20 and though I was making milk, it wasn’t enough. I was so disappointed. But we gamely bought the formula. No one told us to introduce it to her gradually. When my husband gave her a bottle of it that night while I was sleeping she kind of passed out for a few minutes and we couldn’t wake her up. By the time she came to, we were in the ambulance. We ended up spending a week in Children’s Hospital essentially for no good reason, as there was never anything wrong with her. The source of my guilt? Having the surgery in the first place, not asking more questions, not knowing more…sigh.

  34. Thank God he’s ok!

    We’ve made seven trips to the ER over four years, all for croup at 1am. Wheee. Fingers crossed that the little dude has outgrown it.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Waffle Fail =-.

  35. I love your blog! Jacob is so cute!

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  1. […] I was reminded how quickly it can turn from an ordinary Saturday morning into an emergency when Jacob choked on a piece of Hannah’s […]

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